Overtoun, Overtoun, where the membrane is thin, there on the bridge comes the call from within.
Come-hither, Come-hither, Come-hither she calls. I am Lilith, Lilith, first Mother of all.
And a dog knows with his nose and hears with his heart, for Lincoln is in trouble, and he jumps like a lark.
Beware the Dark Tower, Lincoln my friend, for up there in the Tower the stinging man will pin: pin you like a Lamb on a skewer you mangy mutt, and eat you for dinner like a murderers slop.
Ancient Scottish poem, author unknown.
In the darkness, I let Becky fuss over me soothing me back to sleep. I struggled to explain my terror, but I was inadequate in my telling of it. Mia’s voice haunted me and it would not leave me.
And when we woke proper, we were not alone. I saw it in Becky. She was golden now, for she was pregnant.
I do not know how I knew–but I knew just the same. Becky knew it too, but we did not speak of it. How do you articulate so glorious a sensation using only words? Better to be golden and in love than tarnish the experience with the physics of the fact.
I stood atop the lily’s hump and looked about. A new moon was rising, this one in the east. It was white, like our own moon, but brighter in brilliance. Its crystalline light cut the black night that enveloped us, pushing it easily aside. It warmed the air too. This moon radiated heat; it felt good on my body and I stretched my arms and bared my chest to greet it. A harbinger of good? I wonder; is there any good in Wormwood? And as I watched it, I was startled; its beginning position in the sky was not from the horizon as the others had been, or of our own moon’s beginnings, but from above it. What I mean to say, is that it started high, appearing as if from nowhere, as if it had emerged from some secret hole in the sky or had simply tumbled into Wormwood from out of space. Amazed, we watched the thing fall, for that is exactly how it looked; it came towards as if it swung upon a pendulum.
Naked, Becky stood beside me.
“Now what?” she whispered quietly and reached for my hand.
“I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem like the pale moon, does it? Dangerous like, I mean.”
“No,” she answered simply. She shivered despite the new moon’s heat, and I reached for her and held her close; her warm skin felt good on mine and we kissed under the descending moon.
And as the moon came closer our surroundings became clearer.
We had come far. Looking behind us, we saw we had passed the first island. And beyond that, we saw the escarpment we had descended from into the valley; it appeared to be no more than a low frowning brow on the horizon now, and what had been mere foothills then had given way to full-blown alps now.
The land on either side of the river was rugged. Scrub brush and small willowy trees dotted the landscape. It was not pretty; all of it seemed so arid and so untidy, but perhaps that was a trick of the new moon, for its light was so bright it eliminated even the most desperate of shadows, giving Wormwood a starched and coarse appearance that I had not noticed before.
The wide, black water of the river flicked and frothed about us. A light wind had kicked up, buffeting us, but not roughly; briskly we rode the river’s little wavelets. The water lily itself, our stalwart little boat, seemed to lag somewhat, and I wondered why. Was it the wind, or the river itself? The landscape we traveled towards had a noticeable upward slope to it, and I wondered, was this the source of our little boat’s difficulties?
From here, for the first time, we could see the true extent of the hanging mountain and its neighbors. It was far more than I had imagined it to be, for it did not hang. It was but propped up upon other mountains, its vertical extent from the ground upwards was enormous, and it was this that gave the mountain the illusion of “hanging.” It was definitely an odd thing to look at, for the hanging mountain itself seemed to crush the others beneath it, and those others, the hanging mountain’s pillars, were all broken and smashed beneath its immense bulk. Coarse, blacken rinds of splintered, grey rock were thrust up into the air about their master, it was as if they were the fingers of some buried man grasping upward from the ground, seeking air and some kind of untoward redemption denied him before death. It was an impressive display of geographic tragedy, and I wondered, if we were to make it beyond these mountains and on to the Dark Tower, we were going to have a hard time of it. There seemed no possible way to climb even the smallest of the mountains, nor did I see any evidence of a pass between them, and because Wormwood was a narrow land, I saw no way around them, either.
Across the river, on the river’s west bank, a particular copse of trees caught my eye, I thought I saw one of the trees move, and I don’t mean sway slightly in the breeze, either. I mean, I actually saw one hobble a few feet. I watched more closely, but Becky, who reached for her clothing to dress just then, drew my attention from the tree. “Must we?” I asked with a sigh. She battered me lightly on the shoulder and picked up her dress that lay crumpled beneath the yellow flowers. As she bent down to retrieve it, she stopped suddenly and stood up.
“Look at that!”
I followed her finger; and there, trailing behind our water lily, stretching out behind us for sixty feet or more, were long luminous tendrils like that of a jellyfish. Our water lily must be some hybrid of the underwater kind and the above water kind, for we could see colorful, little fish caught and trapped within its winding, graceful grip. The tendrils’ glow was a pale green, and as we watched, the glow faded to white. The moon, I thought, looking up. Was it the source of our water lily’s problems?
We dressed slowly and afterward kissed tenderly up there atop our water lily’s hump. Both of us felt it was time to get to work, but exactly what type of work it was we were to do neither of us knew.
Together we shimmied down the hump using the thick vines to guide us. When we reached the lily’s pad Becky gave a great cry of surprise. I was still coming down the hump and I was looking curiously at its creepy, little eyes, when her cry came.
I jumped down and spun about, ready to defend her.
At the bow of the water lily, I saw a large, dark bundle of fur; Becky ran to it without caution.
“Lincoln!” she shouted, throwing herself upon him.
And it was Lincoln too; curled into a tight ball, he was fast asleep. And when Becky fell upon him, he woke confused and startled, seemingly just as surprised to be here as Becky and I were to find him here. On the other hand, I guess I should not have been surprised. It was not that I expected to see him here, but the weirdness of my journey so far was one in which the unexpected should become the expected. All the same, I was glad to see the old fur-ball, and joined Becky in greeting him with some hearty belly rubs, and head and ear scratching.
Lincoln seemed pleased by the attention, no doubt it helped to overcome his initial confusion at finding himself here, and he was soon his old self again. And after a few minutes of our pandering, he shook himself free of us and began to explore the water lily. He sniffed about, exploring the whole thing. At one point, he put his paws up on the lip and looked out at the deep green expanse of water about us. He stood that way for a long time, as if considering some long forgotten memory. Eventually, he came down and continued to sniff. He eventually poked his nose in amongst the vines of the hump, and presumably, seeing the little eyes there, gave a small yelp of shock and stood at the hump and barked at it until Becky, fed up with his noise, pulled him away, telling him to “shut-it!” Which he did, but not happily, he gave the hump a wide berth, not trusting it at all. He returned to the bow of the water lily and laid there for a few minutes, paws against his ears, growling quietly at the hump. Discontented, he finally stood, and paced the lily once more. He continued round and round the lily for what seemed ages. Not once did his eyes leave the hump. And as nature would have it; Lincoln cocked his leg and peed against the hump.
“Gross,” I said, “Lincoln, you could have waited. We’re about to make landfall!”
“Land?” Becky asked. She had climbed the hump and sat with her eyes closed and her face inclined into the breeze.
“Yeah, look.” She followed my finger.
“This white moon is getting brighter, and the brighter it gets the eyes on the lily’s hump are beginning to close. They’re going to sleep, I think; just like when it’s dark.
“We’re pretty much just drifting on the current now, barely making any headway at all. I’m going to try and make it to that cove.”
Becky looked. She left it to me with a nod. She leaned over the edge of the hump, her hair cascading downwards like a dark waterfall, and peered behind the vines.
“You’re right,” she said, “they’re only about half-open now. When it’s dark, they’re asleep, and when it’s light, they’re also asleep. Weird,” was all she said, and then, “if you need me to do anything let me know.” She swung herself over the top of the hump and landed with a thump on the lily’s pad giving me a slight curtsy and a grin,
“Very nice,” I said, laughing.
“Thank you, kind sir,” she replied, curtsying once more.
She went over to Lincoln and sat with him. She scratched his belly, spoiling him terribly; it took his mind off the lily’s eyes and kept him quiet for a while, and that was fine by me, because it allowed me to concentrate on navigating our sleepy water lily.
The first of the teardrop islands was off to our left and slightly behind us. It was not a very large island, but it was large enough to support a few hills covered with closely cropped grasses and a few spindly patches of scrub and bracken. There were plenty of stubby trees there too, but they were scattered and bare of leaves; they gave the island a dreary washed-out look to it that I found rather depressing.
But we had little choice, as the white moon came lower the lily’s little eyes continued to close. We were more drifting than sailing now. The island was our only choice.
I clambered about the lily’s hump maneuvering my branches as best as I could. I tried to make the most of what dimness remained in the sky, but it was as if the devil controlled the thing, for what genetic madness made this water lily settle at some state between full-dark and full-light, I’ll never know. The last thing we needed was the lily falling asleep and leaving us adrift: I needed to steer us toward the island before that happened.
There was a sandy cove nestled near the tip of the island, and so that was my target.
I had Becky stand with Lincoln where I wanted their shadows to fall. But it did work but not well. Lincoln kept barking at the eyes and Becky, laughing at the absurdness of our situation, allowed Lincoln to run off. He ran round and round the hump barking like a lunatic.
“Hey, this is not a game!” I shouted, but this only made Becky laugh harder and Lincoln bark louder.
And then, another distraction. Standing atop the hump, moving the branches about, I saw that this white moon of Wormwood’s was clearly something special. As we came closer to the island, fat, silver fish began to jump across the lily’s bow.
“Are you hungry?” called Becky up to me, pointing out the fish.
“What? I’m trying to steer this boat. You need to stay where you are.”
“Oh, poo!” she said, and suddenly grabbed one of the branches from out of my hands, almost pulling from me off the top of the hump.
“Hey, what the hell?” I shouted to her.
“Sorry, but I’m hungry.”
I watched dismayed as my steering crew abandoned me.
Becky made her way to the bow of the lily, dragging the big branch behind her, and a curious Lincoln trotted happily alongside her.
But I had no time to watch what Becky did with my branch; the island was coming up fast. The current had increased the closer we came to the shallower water about the island. The water boiled white beneath us now. We were traveling sideways too, and we bobbed and rocked on the current like a child’s toy. I gasped in fear; looking into the water, I saw that there was a reef beneath us.
The reef consisted of rounded boulders with a thick, green weed growing on them, between these boulders rivulets of golden sand peeked up at me. The water, filled now with colorful fish moving in inflating and deflation balloon-like fashion, was quickly getting shallower.
The little cove that I was aiming for was guarded by, what I took at a distance, to be no more than a few weedy rocks, however, the closer we came I saw to my horror that these were actually rather large clumps of vegetation and stone. They protruded from the water about us, dangerous denizens to be sure, almost as if they were guardians to this little cove. In some cases they towered above us, and from my low vantage on the hump, they seemed to be mini islands themselves and looked as resolute as mountains do.
I worked quickly but with only one branch remaining to slow our speed, it was teeth-gritting work. I managed to slow us somewhat before we hit the first clump, and we bounced off it as if we were a ball in a Pinball game. The great trail of tendrils jogged behind us, slowing us somewhat and fortunately, the combination of bounce and tendrils directed us toward the cove proper. We brushed another of the big clumps, and I breathed a sigh of relief, looking down I saw only a sandy bottom beneath us.
I scampered down the hump and dug my branch into the sand, hoping to slow us. It didn’t work, and we careened into another clump; this one jolted the lily so hard I heard a ripping sound from beneath; I looked about to see if we were taking on water, but saw none. From the bow, Lincoln was barking excitedly and Becky was shouting in triumph. “Good boy, Lincoln! Good boy! Get it! Get it!”
Neither woman nor dog sounded concerned with our actual predicament and I wanted to go forward and see what the two were doing, but another clump loomed above us, and when we struck it, we were spun about like a top. My branch was useless now. We hit two more clumps before coming aground in 3 feet of water. We were still about ten feet from the beach, but we had made it.
I put my branch aside and went to the bow to see what Becky and Lincoln had been doing. Their noise had seemed far removed from the actual peril of making safe harbor.
At the bow, I found Becky standing proudly over five very large fish. They were tuna-like in shape, and their scales shined deliciously in the white light of the strange new moon.
I grinned at her, “Okay, now you’ve caught them, now what?”
She came over to me and grabbed at my jacket, pulling me to her to kiss, which she did, but at the same time gripped her finger around the top button, one of three on my Armani suit, and pushed me backwards, tearing the button from its place.
“Now, exnzpat, my dear, we eat!”
* * *
Less than an hour later, after wading ashore and setting up camp on the sandy beach, Becky brought me a cooked fish on a flat stone.
I had been amazed to watch her. First gutting the fish using the edge of my button and then, while setting me to work gathering kindling for firewood, she set out to start a fire by spinning a small stick into another stick. She had created a little bow from her hair-tie to spin the stick, and I asked her how she knew how to do this stuff.
“I was Girl Scout,” she said gaily as smoke and tiny flames burst suddenly from the stick.
“It really isn’t that difficult, exnzpat. Later, I’ll show you how to build us a love nest, if you like.”
“I like,” I answered, impressed.
The fish was delicious, and a love nest sounded intriguing.
She had cooked four of the fish and the fifth she had given whole to Lincoln, who tore at it delightedly, devouring it almost completely in a few minutes. She took one for herself and I asked about the other two. These, she said, we would save for later.
“That’s sensible,” I said, finishing the last of mine.
“It is, isn’t it? Thank you for noticing. At least one of us is being sensible.”
“I beg your pardon? What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, my dear exnzpat, that you seem to have no plan whatsoever. For example, what are we doing here? Where are we going?”
I said nothing for a moment, and pushing my feet into the warm sand said, “I thought we were following the boat? Obviously, they’re people like us. Maybe they’re lost or maybe they know a way out.”
If looks could kill then I was dead.
“I’m not talking about the boat. If we find it, then great, but for now, I want to know where we are going.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Well, the sacred scrolls, of course; So Lilith can find her Mirror-Heart.”
“Bullshit!” she blurted out, standing suddenly. “You can bullshit Lilith and yourself all you want, but don’t bullshit me! You’ve known all along where the scrolls are, haven’t you.”
I didn’t answer her. Instead, I just stared at the tops of my feet buried in the sand, realizing that it was definitely getting warmer here.
“It’s …complicated,” I replied lamely.
“Oh, my God!” she said loudly. She spun on her heel and stalked down to the water’s edge. With her back to me, she asked, “Where are they?”
I took a deep breath, and said, “Okay, okay, calm down. I didn’t remember at first, but by the time we left John and Lincoln at the dais, I did.”
“Well, it’s complicated…,” I said again, stalling, “–but I think I hid them in the piece of mortgage software I was writing at the time. I’ve racked my brain over it, and looking back it would seem to me that that is exactly what I must have done. You see, it’s safer that way. I distributed the software, so hundreds if not thousands of copies must be out there by now. If you look you’d find it pretty easily, I think.”
She turned and came back up the beach toward me.
“So that’s it?”
“Well, no. Not quite, I don’t remember any details or any of the contents at all, and they weren’t actual scrolls, either. What they were, were letters and newspaper articles Scudamour had collected.
“I have a vague recollection of reading them, but I don’t remember typing them into the computer at all, but I do know that’s the only place I could have put them. As to the real documents themselves, the last time I saw them they were in the box in the back bedroom of the rental. And looking back on it all, I know I must have put the box there, but what happened afterwards to it and its contents, I have no idea. The police found me in the attic of the rental–but now I think I may have actually been here in Wormwood. I don’t know…” I stopped speaking here, thinking back. I remembered someone or something lifting me up and carrying me. That was Lilith, I think, for how I managed to get myself into the attic blind and delirious there was no other explanation. Maybe I had the papers with me or maybe I simply tossed them into the trash, or even maybe the police had discarded them because there was no connection between them and me.
Becky said, “The house was professionally cleaned. Anything that would not have helped convict you was throw-out.”
I nodded. It made sense. “Your office, the District Attorney’s office, searched my computer and found nothing either-—and that’s only understandable if you consider that I have the skill set needed to hide information inside an actual computer program. And unless they played with the program and triggered the secret button to unlock the documents, then there is no way they could understand their significance. Though, I think the police may have used the box to collect some evidence; executionerofthewill told me about a box, it had the moldy bread in it, but Lilith’s scrolls–they were long gone by then.”
“Yes, I remember he came to the office. I spoke to him. He didn’t look happy,” Becky said, kneeling in the sand before me. Her black hair framed her petite face like a halo. “Okay, so that answers that question. Now, if Lilith’s sacred scrolls are not here, here in Wormwood, then where are we going and why?”
“We are following the sailing boat you saw?”
She stared at me, her face pinched darkly; she began to stand.
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry. It’s something Lilith said back at the dais…”
“I don’t trust anything that creature has to say,” said Becky coldly. She stood, straightened her dress, and then walked up the beach away from me.
“Well, just hear me out… Wait! Are you jealous?”
“Jealous!” Becky stopped and turned back, her face red with anger. “Jealous! Jealous of her! The Whore of Babylon! That woman has made a fool of every man she has ever met–or ever will meet! How could I ever be jealous of something like her?”
“Don’t call her that!” I said hotly, standing to face her.
“Well, that’s who she is. Haven’t you read the Bible?” she said tartly.
“She’s my friend, she helped me.”
“Oh my God, you are pathetic. When did she help you?”
When I said nothing, she shouted at me again, “When!”
“After I murr—ed my family, that’s when. No one else helped me!” I said, deliberately slurring the word, “murdered.”
Becky came back to me. She touched me gently on my chest. “Listen to yourself. Your own words: after, after… after you murdered your family. She’s not your friend, exnzpat. She has no friends.”
There were tears in her eyes and she asked, “Just tell me where we are going and why. We are friends… I am your friend.” And she put a hand tenderly on my arm but I shook it from me.
“We’re going to the Dark Tower to talk with the other Scudamour. Lilith told me there might be away back. Back in time–this place is a damned time machine, right? Well I plan to use it to stop myself. I want my family back, and I think the other Scudamour can help me do it.”
“So, that’s it then?”
“What else is there?”
Becky stepped back away from me, and with one hand on her stomach, asked, “So what about us?”
And I knew exactly what she meant, but it was not my child, and I said cruelly, “You’ll need to discuss that with executionerofthewill.” I turned away and walked up the beach without looking back.
* * *
Not everything I have written here is true. I admit I have given false testimony. For here is what Becky really said to me amidst the flowers of our lily pad, amidst our passion under last night’s Violet Moon, when I asked her, “…“Do you know what a fractal is?”
She laughed at my seriousness, pulled me to her, and said, “Don’t cry, executionerofthewill. I’m here.”
Tears rolled down my face. With a few words, she destroyed me, but she did not notice, she gently brushed the tears from my cheeks and kissed me….”
That’s what she really said, and that’s what I wanted to write, but could not. Why did I lie? I guess I wanted one thing to be beautiful in my life–just one thing. It seems a little thing to ask, just as a fractal is little, but sometimes little things can be big things, and as in real life, it’s the big things that matter.
* * *
I walked some distance along the beach and coming to the beachhead climbed it to see what was on the other side. The beachhead was a no more than a thick and tangled matt of red and yellow grasses. It was firm enough to walk upon, and so I did.
Of the few trees growing there, I noticed that they were beginning to bud. Small flowering nubs of orange and blue were emerging from their grey, mottled branches, and I guessed that these were flowering trees. They reminded me of the dogwoods back home except their branches were more willow-like and they had thorns upon them that looked like Rose nettles.
And as I walked among them, I saw they were quickly coming into bloom. I stood and watched one tree for a few minutes, spellbound. Tiny colored flowers emerged from its branches, right before my eyes; they developed into little dripping tears, and then, after a quiet moment, as if in reflection, suddenly exploded in size and color like confetti from a novelty firework. As with jumping fish, the rainbow display of colors from these trees gave testimony to the descending white moon above: this was a weird spring in a very weird place.
I looked back down the beach and saw that Becky was throwing sticks for Lincoln to fetch, which he seemed to be doing with excited abandon, barking and cavorting at the water’s edge. I’d always remembered him to be terrible at “fetch.” He had a good nose and some smell would easily distract him, and if he couldn’t find the stick quickly enough, he would wander off in some other direction until called. Though, I distinctly remembered that if he ever did find the stick, it was almost impossible to pry it from his teeth.
He and Becky were good together and I was tempted to return and apologize. And as I stood there thinking about it, the little tree beside me walked a few feet and then stopped. I was so distracted I forgot what it was I was thinking about and stared in amazement, waiting for the tree to do it again, and when it did nothing, I remembered contemplating the apology; I looked back at Becky and Lincoln. They were having fun… an apology could wait, so I left them to it.
I walked inland, toward the island’s center, and much like the beachhead, the same red and yellow grasses covered it all like a fine Turkish carpet; it was soft and spongy, and felt good on my bare feet. The combination of reds and yellows gave the island a shiny brownish tint to it that made me feel as if I were walking on polished leather. It was plain, but for the funny little raggedy trees that dotted the island. Their endless variety of blues, yellows, oranges, reds, and whites broke the plainness the way van Gogh had done with an empty, black sky. Their bushy little tops reminded me of Muppets, for their flowers hung like shaggy kite-tails and willowed about them comically in the light wind that was blowing in from the river.
Coming over a low embankment, I stumbled upon a small lake. It was perhaps a half-mile across and it glistened prettily under the white moon’s light.
I had learnt my lesson from the last body of water I had encountered, and so as I approached the lake, I did so with extreme caution. At the water’s edge, there was a small cluster of Muppet trees. And as I approached, one of them moved, and began to walk toward me.
I stopped to watch, lest I frighten it.
Seeing me or sensing me the tree stopped, too. Its knotty roots curled outward and then dug themselves back into the ground, holding itself firmly in place.
We were about thirty feet apart, and we stood that way as if it were high noon at the O.K. Corral. The tree’s companions at the water’s edge turned to see. Their flowery heads swayed and rocked as their misshapen gnarly limbs shifted and clawed at the ground beneath them.
Walking trees! Why not? This was Wormwood, and anything seemed possible here. Lilith had described Wormwood as a place where things “fall into and out of.” There are places, she had said, that were thin–like the attic of my rental house. Secret doors and hidden accesses, places I would know when I saw them, she had said. Was this lake such a place?
I wondered what planet such a tree could have come from and then braced myself, ready for the thing to speak.
I walked toward the tree.
The solitary tree and its fellows remained as still as rocks. I came up to the first and stood a few feet from it. Colored with red, blue, and white flowers the tree gave off a purple hue. Its flowers were so thick that they hid the tree’s center, so if it had eyes in there, they were invisible.
“Hello,” I said aloud, and waited.
But the tree did not reply. Disappointed, I stood there for a few minutes waiting, and when nothing at all happened, I walked round it and went down to the water’s edge.
There was no beach here; just the same matted grasses that were everywhere else, their tangled jumble gave the lake’s edge the look of a woven basket.
I looked into the water and pulled back immediately, for what I saw there was shocking.
The water was very deep, very clean, and very pure; so pure in fact, that if not for its wetness on my feet, I would not have believed it to be there at all.
The lake was bowl shaped. It plummeted straight down to a depth of at least three-hundred feet. And staring into the water, I saw each and every part of the lake’s contents as a singular thing. It was like staring into the wrong end of a telescope. I saw everything as if through a panoramic lens. And looking in at it I felt as if I were toppling. Instinctively, I grasped behind me to catch something to stop me from falling. And thank God–the little purple-hued tree had followed me. It was standing right behind me.
I grasped at its nearest branch. It was sinuous and strong like a whip; it held my weight easily. I used it to pull myself back from the abyss.
“Thanks,” I said, and getting a firm grip on its branch, avoiding the thorns and nettles growing there, I looked back into the water. For what I had seen there was just as remarkable as the depth and breadth lake presented in its singularity.
There was a city in there. And above the city, a great stone bridge crossed from one side of the lake to the other. The bridge looked to be only about twenty feet below the water’s surface and so was useless to non-water dwelling creatures like me. And there was something wrong with it too. It looked as if it had fallen there, mashed down upon the city below. Its stony legs seemed to have crashed into the houses and buildings in so haphazard a manner that no architect or builder could have consciously made it that way. Its method of placement reminded me of the Hanging Mountain above: a fallen thing.
And so, both bridge and city seemed at odds with one another to begin with. But there was more. Even though the bridge was made of stone I felt its structure to be modern, or at least something that one would expect to find in my twenty-first century: old, but functional, even after three or four hundred years of use, but the city itself, it was older still. Many of thousands of years old, for it was not only a city of stone, but also of clay. It was as old as Gomorrah, and as I thought it, that is exactly what it became, for there, floating above it, still and white, alongside the bridge, was its mistress, Lilith. Her hair, fanned and scalloped, flowed above her head like a ghostly wraith.
She looked to be dead. She was Mistress to a city of the dead and damned, and so she hung there as if dead. And this is how I saw her, midway between city and sky, midway between Heaven and Hell, and midway between me and redemption—-but there was no redemption for me, and so she was just My Lilith.
The crystalline clearness of the water gave me the illusion of vertigo. And hanging from the branch of the purple-hued tree, I saw that awful city above me too; and Lilith, she was hung from it just as she floated above it too. Her feet, wrapped in thick chain, kept her tied to her city. And I saw that the cable that bound her reached up and went deep into Gomorrah. It linked and latched onto every house and hovel there. It was an immutable thing: Lilith, the city, the chain. The illusion was clear, as clear as the water: it was them not her who had forged the chain that kept her there, and I wondered about my own chain, and of Becky’s words: “She’s not your friend, exnzpat.”
And as I hung there, floating over her, over the bridge, and over her city, I smiled. Becky was wrong. Lilith, at least, knew my name.
I stared. And after a while, the illusion the lake presented me made me feel nauseous. Lilith was either an ascending deep-sea diver, or a spider dropping in from the sky. Either way, I felt ill. I reached for a better hold on the purple-hued tree, but I miscalculated, and inadvertently drove a thorn into my hand.
“Son of a bitch!” I shouted (for it really hurt).
I turned and quickly tried to adjust my grip, but I could not; my hand was stuck.
To my horror, I saw that the thorn had penetrated my hand–clean through! The barb was huge. How had it become so huge? And looking along the rest of the tree’s branches, I saw to my dismay, that all of its nettles and thorns on all its branches had become huge. They reminded me of the barbs of a very large and angry squid.
And the thorn that emerged from the top of my hand looked very much like that of Scudamour’s stinger and recognizing it as such, I began to struggle madly with the tree. And as I struggled my balance over the lake’s awful precipice remained in jeopardy, up or down, it did not matter now, for a precipice is always a precipice and gravity changes nothing. But fight I must. Suddenly, the trees flared up as if were an enraged medusa. Its other branches flashed before my face. The tree seemed to grow wild and dark. Its willowy limbs lifted violently into the air swinging and smashing into me with tremendous force. From out of its red, blue, and white blossoms, thorns, stingers, and nettles exploded into existence. The tree lashed at me: my face, legs, and arms; it ripped and tore my flesh off in chunks.
In terror now, I felt the precipice the lake presented as real. I was losing my balance. My eyes were blind. Blood washed from my head, down across my face, blinding me as I had once been blind in my real body. I swung out over the lake on my left hand. I was like a door ajar, beaten and bleeding, my impaled left hand kept me suspended there in space.
With my free hand, I brushed at my eyes, managing to clear some blood away to see. At the precipice, I saw the dark shadow of Gomorrah creep out from its dwellings and crawl and skulk across that irreverent city clutching at and climbing at Lilith’s chain, they shook her awake. They needed her, and they wanted to keep her for themselves, for they had company; there was another shadow creeping down there as well. The second shadow reached out to Lilith too; it was swifter than the first. And that shadow was my own. For Gomorrah loved Lilith as no other city but Sodom or Babylon could, and those three, who had waged a lifetime of foul and awful decadence, needed her close. Their Trinity was unassailable and yet not a one loved Lilith. Lilith, they could never love. She was an image of self; no more than a justification, hers was the image they needed to excuse themselves from themselves. In them, with them, and of them, their love was an idolized self-love. Lilith was their reflection. She was not their real love.
And so our two shadows collided. True love beat false love. And I heard that mean city scream persecutions and hatred for me as my shadow woke Lilith and carried her to me.
She caught me before I fell. Her body was still not whole. And through my blood and pain, and with the eerie white light of the blooming moon above us, I caught snatches of her legs and arms as she beat back the purple-hued tree. Most of her was still in her reptilian-bird form, but her head and torso was that gorgeously, lustful creature that I loved best, and she fought hard for me.
With hands for claws and razors for nails, she tore into the tree. Flowers and shredded leaf billowed like a snowstorm about us.
Whatever the tree was, Lilith did not intimidate it. It lashed at her with same bravado and villainy it had done me. I saw red blood spurt from a slash across her breasts and green blood burst from out her reptilian legs and arms. The tree’s supple, barbed branches entrapped her legs and arms, and began to throttle her as she if were prey meat. It wrapped her, and with its barbs and nettles, it began to grind and tear at her skin and bone, slitting, shredding, and snapping it began to break her with cruel deliberation.
And so together we hung. Our blood made everything slippery and foul. With my free hand, I reached for her. I brushed her perfect neck and she turned to me, her face bruised and black from the tree’s whipping arms. Weakly, she called out to my mind: “help me, exnzpat, help me!” But what could I do? I was as trapped as she was, and when I struggled to move, the pain shooting up my left arm and spine was so intense it took everything I had to remain conscious let alone help.
She pleaded with me again, and at her words, I felt a rush of darkness come over me. I suddenly felt akin to some greater organism, and as I floated there, just above the precipice, I felt the meek and dutiful obedience of Ben and Jerry holding my arms at my side. They had kept me upon terra firma in my darkest hours during the last year in the mental hospital, and now, here they were again. I could feel their quiet strength flow to me now, holding me in place, protecting me from myself.
I saw Ben’s face float before my own. He was afraid, “Get back, Ben. It’ll kill you if it can. Go home to Mia… look after her instead of me; I’m done for.”
A part of me sensed my fingers caught in the great swath of Lilith’s wet hair. We hung together, dying, in the thorny grip of the tree. And it continued to grind upon us, holding us above the precipice, our blood poured into the lake in buckets, sullying its crystal waters into an ugly maroon color that filled it and hid its contents from the eyes of the Saints.
But there was something different now. Something different was coming our way, and Ben’s terrified face faded from view and what I thought at first was a rolling tumbleweed came into view. I gasped. I was awake now, and I heard the sound of a barking dog.
He rushed toward us at lake’s edge. His body was immense. Taken over by his black and white pulse, he looked like boiling tornado as he came. Wolf-like he charged headlong into the tree, striking at it at its top most branches. And above us, he ripped and tore into the tree with vicious, possessive rage. I heard branches snapping and felt the tree shudder at his violence.
In my semi-conscious state, I fancied that the tree screamed, but that was impossible, nevertheless, it staggered backward and dropped me to the ground. Lilith still hung there, wrapped, but barely. Lincoln was doing well, he had his stick and it seemed he was not about to let go.
I managed to prop myself up. Covered in blood, it was impossible to tell were a wound began or ended. All of me felt like I was on fire. I thought my right leg was broken. I tried to move it but could not.
With a thump, the tree dropped Lilith beside me. Immediately she was up at the tree again, fighting it. Somewhere in the tree, I heard Lincoln yelp in pain, and from out of the tree’s interior a single barbed branch shot out and slammed into the side of Lilith’s head, and she went sprawling across the bloodied grasses as if dead. Instantly, the lower branches of the tree grasped for her. Catching her, they wrapped her as a python would a rabbit, and then began to squeeze at her with a gusto it had not shown earlier.
She managed to snap one or two of the branches but it was not enough to free her. Somewhere above us, hidden in the ballooning colors of the tree, Lincoln fought on, his fierce growl now punctuated by tiny yelps of pain. He was in trouble.
I rolled onto my belly and crawled to Lilith. She saw me.
“Stay back, exnzpat.”
“Look at your hand,” she said.
I did as she asked. I was stunned, for the hole the barb had made in my hand went clean through. I could actually see through my hand. Stupidly, I lifted my hand, more amazed than terrified, and looked through it.
I felt a smack on my back. It was another nestled branch. It had come down on me and stuck a barb into my lower back. Its force pushed me face-first into grass, and as lay there, I realized that I was probably going to die there.
Lilith swung toward me and crawled a few feet. She grasped at the branch imbedded in me, and snapping it, rolled me onto my back, and said, “I said, stay back!”
I started in terror at her words; for I saw that Lilith was actually in the process of her metamorphose! The hand that had snapped the branch from my back was only partially reptilian now; three of her fingers were as human as mine were. Her real defenses: claws, strong arms, and powerful body were slowly morphing back into their weakened human forms as she fought…
“Oh, Lilith,” I cried, distressed and heartbroken, seeing her bloodied body flagging before my very eyes, for the tree continued to strike and strike and strike at her.
I looked for Lincoln. He was still up there in the tree. And through the flurries of blue, red, and white petals, I saw that Lincoln had serious problems of his own. Coiled about his body, one tentacle-like branch was crushing his ribs. The tree was trying to pull him off itself too, but Lincoln, with his teeth firmly lodged into the thick belly of the tree’s trunk, was not letting go so easily. Lincoln, lousy at fetch, held on for all he was worth. And somewhere in me, I found a smile for the situation, albeit a sad one, but a smile all the same. For the tree bore terrible scars from Lincoln being there, and from my precipice of consciousness, I saw his work as good.
Good dog, I thought, Good boy, Lincoln. Well done, boy. It’s time for a nap now. And I began to slip once more.
Lilith put her body between the tree and me, and still its cruel staves came at us. And Lilith smiled at me; blood caked her face making her barely recognizable. Feebly, I tried to pry at the branches wrapped about her legs, and she did the same for me. We were sliding toward the precipice together now.
Blackness covered the white moon. It was Gomorrah, coming back to claim her. She grasped at my good hand and whispered, “No,” with such fervent reverence into the sky the white moon shimmed and shook above our heads at her single word.
Her head was beside mine. We lay upon our backs, dying, each in our own way. She turned and kissed me on the cheek.
And then she called out, out to the moon, not in voice, but in mind. And it was no plea. It was a command:
And then an amazing and terrifying thing occurred. Calmly, as if taking a Sunday stroll, Becky came over the small, knotty ridge that ran between the beachhead and lake. She came leisurely toward us and I wanted to call out to her to stay away, but I found myself barely able to breathe let alone shout.
As Becky came closer, I saw that she seemed dazed, drugged almost, it was as if she were in a trance. I wanted to scream and fight for her. “Stay back,” I whispered, and it was all I could muster from my broken jaw and broken face.
I was in terror for her and our child, and yet she came on. She came within striking distance of the tree, and when the tree sensed her presence, it swung its woolly, colorful head abruptly toward her. Lincoln, holding on by just his teeth almost lost his grip, so violent was the tree’s reaction to Becky’s presence.
And I watched with my heart in my mouth, for all of it seemed to happen in slow motion now that Lilith and I were slipping.
Becky’s eyes remained blank, unaware of the deadly waving monster beside her. I watched, powerless and broken, as a single wicked branch, festooned with a thousand freshly grown spines and barbs, lashed at her. But Becky, with dazed eyes, reached up with real purpose and caught the branch before it hit her, and suddenly, incredibly, the tree exploded into fire.
It was a fire that did not burn. It was just flame and silent voice, and the tree, within this flame, burst into ash before us.
And it was over.
I lay paralyzed in pain beside Lilith, blood streaming through my ripped skin and clothing. I looked to Becky, but she did not seem to see me.
White ash settled upon us like an April snowstorm, thick, wet, and fleeting.
Lincoln was hurt, his left hind leg had a limp, and his ribs were probably cracked. He hobbled crookedly toward us wheezing blood as he breathed. He came to me first. He licked at my face and then went to Lilith to do the same. I began to cry.
I turned to reach for Lincoln. But the turning of my head was too much, and I lost my grip and began to fall. I reached out for Ben and Jerry but they were gone too.
Lilith, I suppose, slipped off in some other direction, perhaps returning to Gomorrah. Wherever she fell, I could feel her nowhere.
And as I went tumbling quietly over the precipice, I wondered, who was this Elizabeth Lilith had called for?
The only thing I could think of before the abyss finally took me, was the Visitation, the second of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary: “Our Blessed Lady visits her cousin, Elizabeth, Mother of Saint John the Baptist.”
And then I was gone.